Women leaders in international education gather in Montana, USA, July 2021 for the first Sidecar Summit.
What do you see in this picture?
- Celebration of a colleague’s successful Ed.D. completion
- Appreciation of a first ‘In Real Life’ gathering in wake of COVID
- Launch of a movement to ‘womanize’ the education leadership landscape
The answer is: all of the above, with an emphasis on ‘C.’
The women pictured here were intrepid travelers to the pioneer Sidecar Summit, a gathering of adventurous women leaders in preK-12 education. They came from Bolivia, Colombia, Jordan, Romania, The Netherlands and all four time zones of the U.S., by plane, train, and automobile for a two and a half day Summit in the mountain town of Red Lodge, Montana. Our mission: to acknowledge the challenges of leading-while-female in a school setting – challenges brutally laid bare by COVID; recognize that the leadership landscape is at an inflection point for change; and brainstorm how this landscape can be ‘womanized’ so that school leaders (of all genders), their teams, and the school communities they serve can truly thrive.
Like so many good things, the Summit started as a vision. Six women with leadership experience in international schools had been meeting monthly, (one of the Sidecar Rally groups that I facilitate through my Sidecar Counsel coaching practice) to discuss the challenges and opportunities inherent for women in these positions. Last January, in the depth and isolation of the COVID winter, we began fantasizing about gathering in real life with other daring female leaders to discuss these issues in person (we’d never met face-to-face before). With glasses tinted slightly rose, we envisioned a meetup in the mountains in July, when COVID vaccinations may have made their rounds and made responsible travel possible once again. Our excitement rising, we tested the waters to see if other adventurous women leaders would be game for such a gathering. The response: strongly enthusiastic! And…realistic. Many were game in principle, though hindered in practice by previously set schedules, travel restrictions, or the need to prioritize visits to family and friends whom they hadn’t seen since COVID descended.
Still, we were thrilled that twelve women were able to overcome obstacles, clear their calendars, and ultimately make their way to the pioneering Sidecar Summit.
We couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate spot for this event than the small mountain town of Red Lodge, Montana. The off-the-beaten-track location allowed us to literally and metaphorically disengage from our daily lives, immerse ourselves in the wonders of nature, and engage in purposeful conversations about:
- Burnout: what it is, how it affects us (and why it can be particularly significant for women), ways to address it, and why that’s so important for us as leaders as we make our way out of the deep COVID trench.
- Intentions: distinguishing these from goals; seeing these as possibilities, roadmaps, or reminders for the leadership adventure.
- Values: drawing on the work of Brene Brown, getting clarity on values that define our personal stories and help us make important decisions.
- Best Leadership Attributes: how others have observed us as leaders, and what we can draw from that to enhance our leadership practice.
We took a day to peel away from gravity and engage in ‘moonshot thinking’ about the future of education, in an exercise led by Dr. Lakshmi Karan, Co-Founder of the NASA-incubated Future Frontiers Institute (FFI’s mission is to create an ecosystem that will ensure sustainable, responsible, and equitable space development with a near term focus on human settlements on the Moon.) We saw visions of equity, social justice, learning communities that didn’t necessarily involve school buildings, ‘curriculum’ that was cross-disciplinary and focused on real challenges, student voice at the center of learning, and educators as guides rather than sages. We saw female leadership attributes of connectivity, empathy, and collaboration at the forefront of creating and sustaining these visions. We saw male ally-ship as an important factor accelerating these transformations.
On the final day of the Summit we came back down to ground level and got practical about ways to move from vision to action. A key component of this is nurturing purposeful connections: as a way to share ideas, support those of others, champion the efforts of fellow changemakers, break down silos and identify opportunities for beneficial disruption of the unsatisfactory and unsustainable current status quo. Based on the overwhelmingly positive feedback of the pioneering Summit cohort, this will include future Summits in other regions of the world.
We were thrilled to have financial support for our gathering from International Schools Services, a true champion of Women in Leadership on many fronts, and from Dr. Elizabeth McNamer – my mother – who is the epitome of an adventurous woman and who has given birth to four of them. And this event would not have happened without the courage, audaciousness, expertise, enthusiasm, and get-it-done attitude of the planning/ hosting committee members: Dr. Debra Lane, Jolene Lockwood, Dr. Ann Marie Luce, Dr. Francesca Mulazzi, and Lindsay Prendergast.
Visions can become reality, when coupled with intentional design, bold action, enthusiastic collaborators, and committed champions. Let’s see what thriving landscapes we can dream up and create together!
Bridget is the Founder and Chief Navigation Officer of Sidecar Counsel, a coaching and consulting practice committed to advancing women’s influence in international school leadership.